Secrets of a bestselling author

author Lesley Cookman
Lesley Cookman

I’m so grateful to my long-time friend Lesley Cookman for revealing some of the secrets of a bestselling novelist‘s life. Read today’s guest blog to see what you have in common with her, and get a sneak preview of the cover of her next book (which won’t be published for months yet).

Lesley is the author of the Libby Serjeant series of murder mysteries, with the eighteenth recently published – Murder by the barrel. Each new book whizzes to the top of its category on the Amazon bestseller charts, but despite Lesley’s success, the writing life is still not easy. But it is rewarding… Read Lesley’s guest blog here – and do ask questions in the ‘comments’ bit!

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14 ways to WRITE THAT BOOK

You have the blockbusting idea.

You know all the novel-writing techniques.

Your favourite cousin works for a publisher.

You have all the gizmos and apps that a writer could ever want.

Your characters zap, your dialogue zings.

But you can’t get down to writing the actual, chapter-by-chapter, 80,000 word manuscript.

You want to, you yearn to, you’re excited about it… but you can’t find the time. You can’t find the motivation. HOW DO AUTHORS DO IT?

Writer stares at computer screen
All you can do is stare at the screen…

All published writers – authors, journalists, scriptwriters, dramatists – will tell you this unhelpful secret:

“Just apply your bottom to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard.”

Gee, thanks. But they’re right. It’s the only thing to do. So here are 14 ways to trick yourself, persuade yourself, bully yourself, cajole yourself into doing it. Try them all. See which works best, and stick to it.

  1. Set the alarm half an hour earlier than usual. Get up, drink some water, have coffee if you want, then shake yourself all over and sit down with your laptop and start writing. Do this for half an hour every morning, and you’ll see the word count rising remarkably quickly.
  2. Go to a book fair and get inspired. All those luscious books! Imagine yours among them. See your name on that book cover, imagine yourself signing books for an endless queue of fans paying good money for your story.
  3. logo_book_awardsEnter a contest with a reasonable deadline. Give yourself three months to get the synopsis and first three chapters written. And a cracking title for the book (or short story). Three months sounds a long time, but believe me – it comes round scarily fast. Make sure you meet that deadline and get your entry IN.
  4. Find an app that helps you stick to a schedule. For instance (NB I have no connection to these examples): Monday calendar or Unstuck.
  5. floss cover cropped
    Commission a book cover

    Commit money to your book: commission a cover illustration or hire an editor.

  6. Hang a treat above your head, like a chocolate bar or a bottle of beer, and allow yourself to grab it when you’ve written 1,000 words.
  7. Meet up with a writing pal every weekend (at least) to compare notes, bitch about the writing life, laugh at yourselves, swap sob stories, and egg each other on.
  8. Apply for a writing bursary or a grant – put a bit of pressure on yourself to meet the standards you’re set.
  9. Imagine a very hungry monster outside your room, trying hard to get in and eat you. Every 100 words you write hurls the monster 100 meters further away.
  10. Set this up with someone reliably fierce: every day that you DON’T write, pay that person some money – £2, €3, $5, 10 lei – to spend on something really annoying, like a cause you don’t believe in, or a film you hate. Or a scrumptious treat that you love, and can’t bear to see someone else eat instead. A bit of money might not seem much for one day, but that bit builds up very fast if you don’t write for a week. Ouch. That starts to hurt.
  11. Agree with a friend (ideally one that suffers from the same problem) to swap chapters every week for constructive criticism, or at least congratulations on another chapter written. Failure can be its own punishment, or you can agree forfeits, like buying the other a drink, or lunch. Or a book.
  12. Join NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is an American thing that’s spreading all over the world. It’s a plan to get you writing your novel, and challenges you to write 50,000 words or more in the month. Great scheme. November’s coming soon!
  13. Group of people in a room full of books
    Talk writing with other writers

    Go on a weekend writing retreat to get yourself started. After a weekend’s dedicated work in the company of other writers, you’ll be in the flow.

  14. Create a local Meetup group for writers, for mutual encouragement, constructive criticism and reviews, commiseration and motivation. Promise yourselves something fabulous as a joint treat once you reach a certain threshold, like 40,000 words, or ten chapters, or three short stories…
  15. Yes, I said 14, but here’s an extra tip: Start at Chapter 1 and go on to Chapter 2, 3, 4… Don’t jump around writing your favourite scenes – you’ll struggle to fill in the less interesting bits later.
  16. One final tip: Don’t revise till you’ve finished the whole book. Every time you sit down to write (every day, of course – at least) read through yesterday’s work and continue straight away. Don’t rewrite anything – just keep going till you’ve finished. That’s the first draft. Put it away for a week or a month until you’ve forgotten exactly what you wrote. Then have a look and start revising. Rewrite as you go and you’ll never finish.

So, tell  me – how do you motivate yourself? What gets you to the keyboard and the top of Page 1?

Writing your first…

…illustrated children’s book. This is a great insight into some of the challenges and solutions for writers itching to get their story told: a piece by Michael Gallant for the BookBaby blog. Read, then get writing!

Shel Silverstein The Giving Tree
Illustration from The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

 

We MUST boost our kids’ confidence

Cartoon strip of child being indoctrinated
Cartoon by Eduardo Salles: Cinismoilustrado

Who gets this? Me too. The negative messages we hear over and over again during our childhood and teens can take root and grow into our reality.

What a waste of potential! What a way to destroy children’s lives before they start… What a way to strangle confidence and curiosity. What a way to squash the whole of a society. Please can we stop?

Do you identify with this? Can you see this happening around you? How do you think it affects our whole way of life?

Travelling to your story

travel, airports, writers, fiction, storytelling, where do you get your ideas, where do I find ideas, ideas for writers
Bored, tired, irritable – perfect material for writers

The whole process of travel – on public transport, not in a car – is fraught with opportunity for storytellers. 

Four flights and two train journeys in three days have made me think about the possibilities for mystery, murder, suspense and romance in the confusion of airports and stations.

Alfred Hitchcock made the most of trains in several movies, and there is the glorious example of The Lady Vanishes. Arthur Haley’s Airport, milked the drama of air travel, and the spoof Airplane! and its sequels milked the comedy potential… to the very last drop. We already have a long list of travellers’ tales, but there is plenty of scope for the rest of us.

Love and death

Think of the numbers of people at any one moment in a big airport. Staff and travellers must add up to tens of thousands of people on the move; a clever murderer could kill and get away with it, even with the hundreds of cameras watching every twitch and grimace.

The romance of two people in transit, a fleeting encounter, infinite futures… the potential is limitless. An airport sees people from everywhere in the world; the poor and the rich, the celebrated and the anonymous – crossing paths in limbo, where so much is out of their control.

Ideas factory

Airports are ideas factories. Ferries, too. The best time to watch is in the early hours, where travellers wait for hours, too tired to pretend, sleepy, out of sorts, too hot or too cold, bored and frustrated. One can spend happy hours dreaming up their stories, earwigging on their monosyllabic conversations, wondering what if and what next.

Next time you fly, give yourself extra time between connections to watch, listen and dream.

Got all your ideas for NaNoWriMo?

where do you get your ideas? all keyed up for NaNoWriMo
Mists and mellow fruitfulness – it’s the season for NaNoWriMo

It’s on the doorstep, howling to be let in. Forget about Hallowe’en tomorrow – it’s NaNoWriMoe’en…

Are you ready? Got your ideas lined up, got names for your characters and your setting? How about sub-plots and your supporting cast? Are your main characters rounded and complex, or do they feel like rice paper?

If you’re keyed up, your imagination might be locked up…

Some people are admitting to an excitement bordering on panic, which doesn’t help the flow of creativity we will all need in the next four weeks.

Here, on various pages, you’ll find help in conjuring up great names, settings, real life stories to plunder, images to inspire you, character quirks for your key people… All you might need is a tiny nudge to unlock a whole world.

Raid as much as you like, and feel free to share with your writing buddies. Open to all, no catches, no sign-ups – November is mutual help for authors month.

 [That’s not permission to filch, though – if you share it, do please share the credit, too!]

I’m going to be with you through the caffeine-fuelled, RSI-inducing month – my NaNoWriMo name is Abbs Pepper, so if you’d like another writing buddy, say hello.

Good luck! Happy scribbling! All power to your fingers…

 

The novella is back – and this time it means business

With the rise and rise of the e-reader – Kindles and the like – we have seen the return of the novella as online fiction-buyers demand stories shorter than a fully-fledged novel, but longer than a short story.  Enter… the novella.

But what is it?

To encourage entries for its novella competition, the Paris Literary Review gave its readers some links to explore the art of novella. [Please note: the competition is closed for 2012 but you have 352 days to get your entry polished for the 2013 Prize. More details here.]

According to the Encylopaedia Britannica: “Novella, short and well-structured narrative, often realistic and satiric in tone, that influenced the development of the short story and the novel throughout Europe. Originating in Italy during the Middle Ages, the novella was based on local events that were humorous, political, or amorous in nature; the individual tales often were gathered into collections along with anecdotes, legends, and romantic tales. Writers such as Giovanni Boccaccio, Franco Sacchetti, and Matteo Bandello later developed the novella into a psychologically subtle and highly structured short tale, often using a frame story to unify the tales around a common theme.”

In a Guardian article (here) about Julian Barnes’s “short novel” The sense of an ending, Stephen King was quoted as condemning the novella thus: “an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic”.

The novella as literary form is discussed in The Daily Beast by Taylor Antrim (here), as does Bliss Kern in Three Quarks Daily (here), but quoting the arch storyteller Edgar Allen Poe’s scorning of the literary novella’s reluctance to end itself.

So is the novella the sole preserve of the literary author? If it is now, it soon won’t be. Some years ago as part of a campaign to get more people reading, the QuickReads series was launched, with bestselling authors writing novellas, aka short novels, for the romance, crime and other genre markets.

On e-book download sites there are many thousands of short novels, not proclaimed as such, but boasting 40,000-60,000 words for those who want a quick, easy read. As long as they are priced right, they sell.

So if you’re contemplating a first book, don’t quail at the thought of a 100,000-word doorstop tome;  kick off with a novella. Or a short novel. Or a long short story. Make up your own rules – who cares, if the story’s good?